Attorney General could refer Colston statue case to Court of Appeal

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Sage Willoughby, Jake Skuse, Milo Ponsford and Rhian Graham were cleared of criminal damage for toppling the Edward Colston statue (PA Wire)
Sage Willoughby, Jake Skuse, Milo Ponsford and Rhian Graham were cleared of criminal damage for toppling the Edward Colston statue (PA Wire)

The case of the protesters cleared of toppling Edward Colston's statue could be reviewed by the Court of Appeal.

Attorney General and Conservative MP Suella Braverman has powers to ask the Court of Appeal to determine if the law was applied correctly if the case is referred to her by the Crown Prosecution Service.

She said on Friday she was “carefully considering” referring the “Colston Four” case to the appeals court.

But Labour accused her Ms Braverman of “playing political games when she doesn’t like the results”.

Earlier this week, activists Jake Skuse, 33, Rhian Graham, 30, Milo Ponsford, 26, and Sage Willoughby, 22, were cleared of criminal damage for their part in toppling slave trader Colston’s statue and throwing it in Bristol harbour during a Black Lives Matter protest in 2020.

Ms Braverman said: “Trial by jury is an important guardian of liberty and must not be undermined.

“However, the decision in the Colston statue case is causing confusion.

“Without affecting the result of this case, as Attorney General, I am able to refer matters to the Court of Appeal so that senior judges have the opportunity to clarify the law for future cases.

“I am carefully considering whether to do so. “

The Court of Appeal would not be able to alter the verdict in the case of the Colston Four and the defendants cannot be retried without fresh evidence.

Shadow Attorney General Emily Thornberry said: “The Attorney General has a duty to uphold democracy, the rule of law and the sanctity of the jury system, not play political games when she doesn’t like the results.”

After the four activists were cleared, defence barrister Blinne Ni Ghralaigh said: "In this case, they determined that a conviction for the removal of this statue - that glorified a slave trader involved in the enslavement of over 84,000 black men, women and children as a 'most virtuous and wise' man - would not be proportionate."

However the jury’s verdict angered a number of Tory MPs.

Sir Robert Buckland, the former justice secretary, urged the Crown Prosecution Service to act.

Protesters threw the statue of Edward Colston into Bristol harbour during a Black Lives Matter protest rally (PA Wire)
Protesters threw the statue of Edward Colston into Bristol harbour during a Black Lives Matter protest rally (PA Wire)

He tweeted: “We undermine the rule of law, which underpins our democracy, if we accept vandalism and criminal damage are acceptable forms of political protest. They aren't. Regardless of the intentions."

Conservative MP Michael Fabricant added the verdict could "give rise to other statues being damaged".

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said new powers in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill would close "potential loopholes" limiting the prosecution of people who damage statues and memorials.

It would allow courts to consider the "emotional or wider distress" caused by the destruction of public property and raise the maximum sentence to 10 years - regardless of the cost of damage.

The House of Lords is set to continue its scrutiny of the bill on Monday.

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